The ability to control the motion of soft robots, coupled with their flexibility, gives them potential applications ranging from biomedical technologies to manufacturing processes, researchers said.
A team of researchers from North Carolina State University (NC State) found a way of embedding long chains of nanoscale magnetite particles in sheets of elastic polymer to form a magnetic polymer nanocomposite.
By applying a magnetic field, the researchers can control the way the nanocomposite bends - making it a soft robot. The process begins by dispersing nanoparticles of magnetite, an iron oxide, into a solvent. A polymer is then dissolved into the mixture, which is poured into a mold to
form the desired shape.
A magnetic field is then applied, causing the magnetite nanoparticles to arrange themselves into parallel chains. The solution is dried, locking the chains into place, and the finished nanocomposite can be cut, to further refine its shape.
"Using this technique, we can create large nanocomposites, in many different shapes, which can be manipulated remotely," said lead author Sumeet Mishra, a PhD student at NC State.
"The nanoparticle chains give us an enhanced response, and by controlling the strength and direction of the magnetic field, you can control the extent and direction of the movements of soft robots," Mishra said.